Italian football great and World Cup winner Paolo Rossi dies aged 64

* Along with Roberto Baggio and Christian Vieri, he is Italy’s top scorer in World Cup history with nine goals

* ‘Unforgettable Pablito, who made all of us fall in love in that summer of 1982’

* Rossi won two Serie A titles, a European Cup and a Coppa Italia with Juventus

* This comes two weeks after another world legend Argentine Diego Maradona’s death

By Sean Morrison,

Paolo Rossi, the hero of Italy’s 1982 World Cup-winning squad, has died at the age of 64.

Against Brazil in which he scored a hat-trick

News of the former maestro’s death was announced on Thursday by Italian TV channel RAI Sport, for whom Rossi had been working as a soccer pundit.

“Such terribly sad news: Paolo Rossi has left us,” said RAI Sport presenter Enrico Varriale, who did not disclose the cause of death.

“Unforgettable Pablito, who made all of us fall in love in that summer of 1982 and who was a precious and competent work colleague in RAI over recent years.”

Shortly after the announcement, Rossi’s wife, Federica Cappelletti, posted a photo of herself and her husband on Instagram along with the words “per sempre” (forever).

With Maradona

This comes two weeks after another world legend Argentine Diego Maradona died on cardiac arrest on November 25, aged 60.

Maradona, who won the World Cup with Argentina in 1986, suffered a heart attack at his home just two weeks after he was released from hospital following surgery for a bleed on his brain.

World Cup winner, Paolo Rossi

Rossi won two Serie A titles, a European Cup and a Coppa Italia with Juventus but will be most fondly remembered for his six goals at the 1982 World Cup in Spain.

His selection in the squad was initially criticised by pundits, who wrote him off as out of shape, but they were left eating their words when he struck one of the World Cup’s great hat-tricks against Brazil.

Italy’s 3-2 victory in that classic encounter in the second group phase booked them a place in the semis against Poland, where Rossi again made the difference.

Against Germany

He sunk the Poles with a brace in a 2-0 win that fired his side into the World Cup decider against West Germany.

Rossi then scored Italy’s first in a 3-1 victory that gave them their third World Cup title and their first since 1938.

He won the golden boot as the top scorer and golden ball as the best player of the tournament, a campaign regarded as one of the best individual World Cup performances of all-time.

Among the tributes to flow from the soccer world, Germany’s former World Cup winner Juergen Klinsmann tweeted: “Dear Pablito, we will always remember you!”

The greatest footballer of all time, Pele named Rossi as one of the top 125 greatest living footballers in March 2004 and during the same year, he was placed 12th in the UEFA Golden Jubilee poll.

Born on September 23, 1956 in Prato, Tuscany, Rossi played his entire club career in Italy and he is one of only three players to have won all three awards of the World Cup, along with Garrincha in 1962 and Mario Kempes in 1978.

He was also awarded the 1982 Ballon d’Or as the European Footballer of the Year and along with Roberto Baggio and Christian Vieri, he is Italy’s top scorer in World Cup history with nine goals.

At club level, he was also a prolific goalscorer for Vicenza whom he helped earn promotion into the Serie A in 1977.

The following season, Rossi scored 24 goals to become the first player to become the topscorer in Serie B and Serie A in two consecutive seasons.

He joined Juventus in 1981 with whom he helped win the Coppa Italia, the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, the UEFA Super Cup and the European Cup.

The great Juventus player

He was banned for three years in 1980 as part of the ‘Totonero’ match-fixing scandal but always denied any wrongdoing.

Still Juventus retained him and later he earned the place in Italy’s 1982 World Cup where he made the history.

In total, he scored 20 goals in 48 caps and undoubtedly his most important goals were from his hat-trick that sunk Brazil in the 1982 quarterfinals.

A ball holding up player

Wikipedia describes Rossi that “although he lacked the intimidating physical presence of a typical out-and-out striker, he was a quick, agile, prolific and elegant centre-forward with good technique, balance, extremely quick reactions, an accurate shot and an eye for goal which enabled him to anticipate defenders in the box for the ball”.

“He made up for his lack of strength, physicality and shooting power with his keen sense of opportunism, intelligence, positional sense and sharp finishing skills with both his feet as well as his head, which allowed him to excel in the air and beat our larger opponents for the ball — in spite of his relatively short stature.

Later years as a soccer pundit

“Although Rossi was primarily known as a striker who mainly operated in the penalty area, he began his career as a right winger and in his later career with Juventus, he was also deployed as a supporting forward owing to the offensive attributes of the club’s new signings — in particular Zbigniew Boneik and Michel Platini — where Rossi’s role frequently involved holding up the ball or dragging opponents out of position to create space for his teammates’ runs with his excellent attacking movement off the ball,” says Wikipedia.

While Rossi was most inconspicuous on and off the pitch, Maradona was renowned for his breathtaking playing ability as well as his wild life off the pitch — running around with the mafia in Naples, serial womanising and a lethal dependency on alcohol and cocaine.

The great Diego Maradona

Maradona won the World Cup with Argentina in 1986, having knocked England out in the quarter final with the infamous ‘Hand of God’ goal and another — later voted ‘Goal of the Century.’

A report by UK’s Daily Mail said Maradona had come down for breakfast on November 25 looking pale and complaining that he felt cold and told his nephew that he felt sick’ before returning to bed in his Buenos Aires mansion.

Shortly before noon a nurse discovered him and phoned for help but he was dead before paramedics could arrive.

Three days of mourning were declared by the Argentinian president Alberto Fernandez and paid his tribute: “You took us to the top of the world. You made us immensely happy. You were the greatest of all — thanks for having existed, Diego. We will miss you for a lifetime.”

President Alberto Fernandez with Diego Maradona

Thousands of mourners poured onto the streets of Buenos Aires and Naples in Italy to honour Maradona as stadiums across Europe fell silent ahead of Champions League clashes.

He is survived by five children, including his daughters Dalma, 33, and Ganina, 31, by his first and only wife Claudia Villafane, 58, to whom he was married from 1984 to 2004.—Additional reporting by Duncan Mlanjira, Maravi Express

Appeal from Sandra Sharon Kamanga